On April 3, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it has launched a website that provides details on Farm Bill implementation. The website provides useful information on USDA's implementation of the Farm Bill and includes information on the economic implications of the bill's implementation prepared by the Economic Research Service.
On March 13, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a meeting to share information with stakeholders about the 2014 Farm Bill implementation process related to Energy and the Bioeconomy. A copy of the USDA press release is available online.
On March 14, 2014, USDA will hold a listening session on implementation of the Farm Bill's Biobased Markets, or BioPreferred Program. To register for the webinar, please visit online.
President Obama is expected to sign H.R. 2642, the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the new five-year Farm Bill), into law on Friday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. He is scheduled to speak there about the importance of the legislation.
The Farm Bill is critically significant to the biofuels and renewable chemicals and products industries because the new Farm Bill continues and expands on the majority of the energy programs covered under the 2008 Farm Bill and provides $881 million in mandatory funding to carry them out. For instance, the new Farm Bill continues the Biobased Markets and Biorefinery Assistance programs, as well as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which helps encourage and facilitate the growth of purpose grown energy crops to be used for energy production. It modifies the existing Biorefinery Assistance Program to create the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program and extend funding eligibility to producers of renewable chemicals and biobased products. The mandatory funding under this program and expanded eligibility marks a big victory for the biofuels and renewable chemicals and products industries.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 2642 by a bi-partisan vote of 251-166 on January 29, 2014. The Senate followed suit on February 4, 2014, by a bi-partisan vote of 68-32.
On Monday, the 41 member bicameral Farm Bill Conference Committee announced that it had reached agreement on a compromise Farm Bill, the Agriculture Act of 2014. A copy of the legislation is available online. The Conference Committee was led by House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK), Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS). A copy of the Senate Agriculture Committee press release on the compromise legislation is available online.
The bill includes $881 million in mandatory funding for renewable energy programs over the next ten years, and extends eligibility to renewable chemicals for the first time. It continues the majority of the energy programs covered under the 2008 Farm Bill, including the Biobased Markets and Biorefinery Assistance Programs, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program to help encourage and facilitate the growth of purpose grown energy crops to be used for energy production. The legislation will modify the existing Biorefinery Assistance Program to create the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program that would expand funding eligibility to producers of renewable chemicals and biobased products. This mandatory funding and expanded eligibility marks a big victory for the biofuels and renewable chemicals and products industries.
The House of Representatives passed this compromise Farm Bill on Wednesday, January 29, 2014. The Senate is expected to take it up for consideration and potentially vote on it as early as the end of this week. The President is expected to sign it.
Just before adjourning for its winter recess, the U.S. House of Representatives approved on December 13, 2013, by voice vote an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill through January 31, 2014. The vote is considered symbolic because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has asserted that the Senate will not consider an extension. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Representative Colin Peterson (D-MN), two of the principals leading Farm Bill negotiations, have reportedly stated that an extension is unnecessary since they expect to prepare in final a framework for the next Farm Bill to be passed by Congress before the end of January. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be required, absent a new Farm Bill, to set up a supply-side management program after December 31, 2013, it is expected that Congress will pass a new five-year Farm Bill by the end of January 2014, when such a program would effectively be up and running.
Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, filed a bill this week to extend for one month, the 2008 Farm Bill to pave way for the completion of the five-year reauthorization bill when Congress returns from its winter break in January. The House of Representatives is scheduled to recess this Friday, on December 13, 2013, while the U.S. Senate is not scheduled to recess until next Friday, December 20, 2013.
Members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, led by the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees (the four principals), have been working to merge the House and Senate passed versions of the legislation and settle on a final bill for enactment by the end of the year. Key sticking points remain on the level of cuts to the food stamp program and the implementation of farm subsidies. In addition, representatives of the biofuels and renewable chemical industries are also advocating strongly that the final bill should include the Senate version of the energy title, which would provide $900 million in mandatory funding for Farm Bill energy programs, and extend eligibility to renewable chemical producers.
If Congress fails to pass either an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill or a new five-year Farm Bill by January, an antiquated supply-side 1949 law will kick in, driving up milk prices among other things. That law includes no support for renewable energy programs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, have both publicly denounced any short term extension and any plans of the House of Representatives to recess for the year before completing the next Farm Bill. Reportedly, Majority Leader Reid has stated that he will not bring any short term extension up for a vote. The staffs of the four principals were meeting on Thursday, December 12, 2013, to complete as much of the framework for the next Farm Bill as possible to reduce the need for a short term extension and increase the likelihood a final bill could pass shortly after Congress returns to work after the first week of January.
Reportedly, the four principals leading the effort to merge the House and Senate versions of the next five-year Farm Bill into a final bill have reached a preliminary agreement on the two major sticking points: food stamps and crop subsidies. The leaders are working feverishly to reach agreement and pass the final version of the Farm Bill by the end of this year when the current Farm Bill expires. Previous Biobased and Renewable Advocacy Group (BRAG™) coverage of the Farm Bill debate and negotiations is available online.
This week could determine whether Congress will be able to pass its next five-year Farm Bill by the end of this year. Congress is expected to adjourn for its Thanksgiving recess at the end of this week, and the House of Representatives is expected to adjourn for the year on December 13, 2013. With the little time remaining to conduct official Congressional business this year, two of the four principal Farm Bill conferees working to join the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill into one final piece of legislation, have made public statements stressing the importance of reaching a deal by the end of the week. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reported that the four principal conferees are working intensely this week to reach agreement on a framework for the final bill. Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) has reportedly asserted that this is the "deadline" week for conferees to reach agreement on final legislation to provide the House of Representatives time to pass it before the year's end.
While there are some reports that progress is being made to merge the House and Senate versions of crop insurance programs, the most significant difference apparently remains on food stamps. The Senate-passed version contains $4 billion in cuts to the program over ten years, while the House version would cut $40 billion. There is some talk that Congress could look to pass a short term extension of the current Farm Bill if enough progress is not made this week.
In the past week, three significant letters have been sent to conferees charged with preparing in final the next five-year Farm Bill urging them to include an Energy Title that supports biofuel and renewable chemical development and production.
On November 1, 2013, 30 bi-partisan Members of Congress sent a letter to the leaders of the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry urging Farm Bill conferees to include and make necessary investments in an Energy Title. The letter stresses the importance of this support for renewable energy to the nation and its rural economies. In particular, the letter urges continued support for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP), and Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). A copy of the letter is available online.
On November 4, 2013, 14 bi-partisan Senators sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee urging Farm Bill conferees to include an Energy Title as passed by the Senate earlier this year, which would include $900 million in mandatory funding and support for biofuels and expanded support for renewable chemicals. In particular, the letter stresses the importance of the REAP, BAP, and BCAP programs, as well as the Biobased Markets Program. A copy of the letter is available online.
Also, on November 4, 2013, over 130 organizations signed a letter sent to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees similar to the one sent by the 14 Senators described above. A copy of the letter is available online.
On October 30, 2013, the Conference Committee selected to merge the House and Senate versions of the next five-year Farm Bill met to begin formal negotiations. This Farm Bill Conference Committee is comprised of 41 bi-partisan Members of the U.S. House and Senate.
Though Farm Bill Conference Committee negotiations are expected to be difficult, pressure is on Members of Congress to pass a final version of the next five-year bill by the end of this year. If it fails to do so, farm policy will be governed by an outdated supply-side permanent law from 1949. In that situation, milk prices would be expected to increase sharply, among other things. In addition, the old law includes nothing to cover or help promote renewable energy, including biofuels and renewable chemicals.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the next five-year Farm Bill, S. 954, including funding for farm, nutrition, and energy programs. Importantly, the Senate bill continues and provides mandatory funding for existing Farm Bill energy programs and extends eligibility to renewable chemicals. It includes $4 billion in cuts to nutrition programs. After failing to pass a combined bill, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a "farm-only" bill this summer and then a separate "nutrition-only" bill cutting $40 billion in food stamps. The House farm-only Farm Bill contains an energy title without mandatory funding that will instead be subject to annual appropriations, and it does not extend the energy programs to renewable chemicals.
The biofuels and renewable chemicals industries continue efforts to gain support for an energy title that would support their development and include mandatory funding in the final version of the next Farm Bill.